Analyze the way in which the buzz saw is characterized in Robert Frost's "Out,out--.Address the relationship between people and their objects of labor...

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The buzz saw in the Robert Frost poem "Out, Out -" is personified, given the characteristics of a living, breathing entity, malevolent, like a beast. The buzz-saw "snarl(s) and rattle(s)...(making) dust and dropp(ing) stove-length sticks of wood." The saw also "(runs) light, or (has) to bear a load;" like a person or a domesticated animal, it works alongside human beings, helping them to do the work necessary to survive.

Although theoretically the humans are in charge of the machine, the buzz saw seems to have a dark energy, and a mind of its own. When the accident recounted occurs in the poem, Frost describes the saw as "leap(ing) out at the boy's hand," or at least not "refus(ing) the meeting" between the two, "as if to prove saws knew what supper meant." Just as the people are being called into supper to eat, so the saw will also eat - human flesh. The saw is a menacing presence, with power barely contained; the sound of its "snarl(ing) and rattl(ing)" is repeated three times during the course of the poem, reminding the reader of its nearness and danger.

The poem has often been interpreted as a commentary on industrialization. Although men create machines to aid them in their work, they also are often deliverers of destruction. In the shadow of the large and powerful instruments they have implemented, men become anonymous and vulnerable, like the boy whose life is snuffed out by the malevolent action of the buzz saw.

lit24 | Student

Frost's poem is based on a true incident which is believed to have happened in April 1915; Raymond Fitzgerald, the son of Frost’s friend and neighbour, lost his hand to a buzz saw and bled so profusely that he went into shock, and died of cardiac arrest in spite of the best efforts of the doctor.  Frost’s title invites us to compare the poem’s shocking story with Macbeth’s speech on learning of his wife’s death:

The key to understanding the theme of Frost's "Out, out-" lies in the intertextual reference to Shakespeare's "Macbeth" Act V Sc.5, where Macbeth soliloquizes bitterly on the futility of life after he learns of the death of his wife:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Frost's poem ironically comments on the death of a small boy who dies tragically at such a young age because of an accident when he was sawing wood.  His life is compared to a "brief candle."

When the boy's sister announces that it's supper time, the boy is distracted and even before he realizes it the saw has cut off his hand:

His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—

Frost has anthropomorphized the inanimate object 'saw' by giving it human attributes - 'knew' and 'leaped.' the word 'buzz-saw' itself is an example of onomatopoeia - the buzzing sound of the machine saw.

The last two lines contain the message or moral which Frost wants to convey to his readers. Frost's message is that anything can happen at any time. There is no absolute safety or security for human life. The next minute is not ours and we may be alive one minute and dead the very next minute. The only thing that we can do is to go on with our lives. Just because the small boy died it does not mean that all the others will die in a similar fashion. The death of the small boy cannot be an excuse for inaction. So, the others continue with their work and lives even after the death of the boy:

No one believed. They listened at his heart. Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it. No more to build on there. And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.